brain health

We are often told which ingredients to avoid for weight loss and which to consume to improve our general physical appearance, but considering what we put into our bodies for our brain health is equally, if not more, important.

We’ve covered the essential vitamins and brain food we should be consuming in order to increase brain health and productivity in previous articles, so in this article, we explore which ingredients we should be reducing or avoiding in order to prevent brain damage.

1. Salt

A diet high in salt can lead to raised blood pressure, which can affect the blood flow to the brain. In extreme circumstances, the arteries to the brain can become blocked or even burst, causing it to be starved of oxygen and nutrients, leading to a stroke. The short- and long-term damage to the brain from strokes varies from patient to patient, but problems with communication and movement are common. To prevent the risk of a stroke, it’s important to reduce the amount of salt in our diet in order to prevent high blood pressure.

2. Sugar

When we consume too much sugar, our levels of the chemical BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) are reduced. The depletion of this chemical causes problems with our memory and our ability to learn new things. Low levels of BDNF have also been linked to dementia. To prevent the depletion of BDNF in our body, we should avoid processed foods, which are particularly high in sugar.

3. Caffeine

For many of us, caffeine is the first thing we consume each morning, in the form of coffee and tea. But it’s also found in energy drinks, chocolate, medication such as pain killers and some mints and gum. A recent infographic, ‘What Energy Drinks Do To Your Body’, explains that caffeine blocks the chemical adenosine, which helps us sleep. This causes our brain to fire neurons in order to stimulate an energy boost. Not only is our nervous system affected when we block adenosine, but the stimulated energy becomes harder to achieve and maintain as we build up a tolerance, and in some cases become addicted. When the effects of caffeine wear off, we often experience fatigue and irritableness and this is magnified when we try to reduce our daily intake and withdraw completely.

4. Trans Fat

Typically found in baked goods such as pastries and cakes, research has shown that trans fat is linked to brain shrinkage. Whilst our brain relies on natural fats to function, trans fat can destroy cells, affect our memory and increase inflammation.

In an article in Huffington Post, Dr. Gene Bowman advised, “It’s clear that trans fats are bad — both for your heart and now, we see, for your brain…So I would recommend that people stay away from all trans fats. If you aren’t sure whether something has them, just look at the ingredients; if there’s vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated anything… just put it down. That’s the big message here.

5. Alcohol

The more alcohol we consume, the harder it is for our liver to break it down and we display typical signs of drunkenness including slurred speech, memory loss, reduced spatial awareness and difficulty walking. Regular drinkers and alcoholics do not give their body and brain time to recover, and this can cause long-term effects with areas such as memory. The good news is that brain scans have shown that the brain can recover after long periods of abstinence and sobriety.

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